The Shipping News


Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
Written by:Robert Nelson Jacobs
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Julianne Moore, Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Pete Postlethwaite, Rhys Ifans, Jason Behr, Scott Glenn
Released: February 7, 2002
Grade: B

Miramax Studios has had a film nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards for nine consecutive years.  Their million dollar Oscar advertising campaigns have come under fire but whatever they’re doing must be working.  In 1999, The Cider House Rules was their nominee.  In 2000, Chocolat was their nominee.  Both films were directed by Lasse Hallstrom (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape).

Seeing Hallstrom was an expert in producing a “prestige” picture, they signed him to make The Shipping News - a “prestige” book written by E. Annie Proulx.  They signed Oscar winning “prestige” actors Kevin Spacey and Judi Dench and had the film ready to release in December, the “prestige” time of the year.  Sadly, there’s only so much “prestige” one can take and The Shipping News has been a disappointment at the box-office and with critics.  It’s no surprise that Miramax has abandoned its marketing for the film and is pumping everything into In The Bedroom to give the studio it’s 10th consecutive nominee.

It’s difficult to translate a respected novel onto the big screen.  It’s not impossible (see Lord Of The Rings) but it doesn’t happen very often.  The adaptation is the problem here.  The film plays like fragments of multiple stories that don’t gel.  There’s little character development at the beginning nor little resolution at the end.  Despite being beautifully shot in the snow-covered lands of northern Canada, my feeling for the film was equal to that of the weather - cold.

Kevin Spacey is Quoyle, a slow and simple man with a 6-year-old daughter, Bunny.  His wife, Petal (Blanchett), has no respect for him and travels around the country sleeping with other men.  When she is killed in a car accident, Quoyle packs his bags and travels with his long-lost aunt, Agnis (Dench), to Newfoundland where his ancestors once lived.  He finds a job as a reporter for the local newspaper, makes new friends and finds a new love, Wavey (Moore), who operates the day care centre.  Quoyle slowly finds himself enjoying life but he’s still battling the demons that haunt his past...

There are subplots.  Scott Glenn is the newspaper’s owner who gives Quoyle his big break.  Pete Postlethwaite and Rhys Ifans are Quoyle’s work colleagues who teach him a thing or two about life in the small community.  Jason Behr is a handyman helping repair Agnis’s old house.  All of them have their own troubles but are secondary to those of Quoyle.

The performances cannot be questioned.  Spacey is a little over-the-top with his subdued personality but he’s still the guy you want to root for.  Dench is great in her supporting role and it only adds to the amazing Hollywood resume (including Shakespeare In Love, Mrs. Brown and  Chocolat) she has compiled late in her career.  Of the crew, Christopher Young’s score is wonderful and a film highlight.  Hallstrom’s direction was a tad disappointing - perhaps I’m tired of him directing these slow-paced mushy dramas.  It’s the same soft camera movement appreciating panoramic surroundings.  Perhaps he needs a good action flick to get it out of his system.

The headline is in - “The Shipping News is good but not great.”  It ain’t page one material.